THE DUUMVIRATE. A thoughtful piece by Igor Yurgens discusses the political power situation. “It is very unusual that there are two very respected and influential people who are friendly and share a single ideology, but occupy two different, powerful positions. For the first time, our country literally reflects our coat of arms, with the two-headed eagle. Some people get confused, especially political experts. In business, there is more common sense, though.” I have come to believe that Putin’s decision to become PM was a step towards political pluralism and that he and Medvedev operate as heads of a team (and have done so for some years). I agree that many political commentators are confused. One of the bigger problems in Russia coverage is what I call neo-Kremlinology: the assumption that Russia only has a dozen or so actors and the story is their interaction and (presumed) power struggles. For my money, this is usually wrong-headed and a waste of time. I have also been struck for some years how differently businessmen see things, probably because they spend so much time away from the hothouse atmosphere in Moscow. The duumvirate is a peculiar situation, quite new to Russia and uncommon elsewhere: it deserves careful thought and observation rather than the Procrustean approach. Yurgens also points out that it is misleading to focus on the principals: “there is no duumvirate, there is a collective of people who have decided to deal with this situation as a team”.
CORRUPTION. Another small step: the Interior Minister has announced that police will be wearing name badges by the end of the year. Permanently attached to their uniforms, it is said.
PIKALYOVO. This town has lost all its employers and residents have been protesting. Putin visited today, ordered wage arrears to be paid immediately and promised to re-start production is the owners could not agree. Good, I suppose, but is this really in his job description?
CARS. A Russian (GAZ)-Canadian (Magna) consortium has bought a controlling interest in Opel, General Motor’s European arm. GAZ says it can begin production of Opel cars in 9 months. Meanwhile Nissan has officially opened its plant in St Petersburg. There is a large market for cars in Russia.
TUSK GIVES THE GAME AWAY. Interfax carries an interview with Donald Tusk, the Polish PM, in which he speaks of the need for US missiles there. Readers may recall that the ostensible reason for them had to do with Iran. But Tusk says nothing about Iran: “We need to strengthen our defense, especially that against missiles… We would like to see that NATO does not only confine itself to words about solidarity, but we would like to see that this can be tangible in case of a strike” Strike from where if not Russia?
GAS AND UKRAINE. Putin gave a rather pessimistic assessment of Ukraine’s ability to buy the gas to keep the system operating and that it was “unlikely” that Gazprom would pay 5-7 years in advance for transit payments (it has already paid one year in advance) and that the EU appeared “unable” to lend it the money. Gazprom’s CEO said there was “no possibility” of a cut-off under the present agreement. But Naftohaz has to pay somebody something and the next payment for May’s domestic consumption and gas to fill reservoirs is due 7 June. The Europeans will be sending a commission to Moscow and Kiev to assess the potentially dangerous situation. Meanwhile the political struggle continues with Tymoshenko and Yanukovych now in coalition talks.
GEORGIA. As Saakashvili stonewalls, the opposition is re-considering its tactics although protest demonstrations continue in Tbilisi. There do not appear to have been many protests elsewhere – the government’s total control of the news media means that its standing is higher in the countryside. Most of the opposition parties have signed a “Charter of Commitments” pledging themselves to support democracy and a “balanced” foreign policy of “Closer ties with our western partners and strengthening of course towards EU and NATO. Normalization of relations with Russia based on Georgia state interests and launch of new stage of relations with Russia based on mutual respect”. I recommend Nino Burjanadze’s piece “Support Georgia not Saakashvili”. It is encouraging to find some coverage of the other point of view in the Western media (especially the USA’s). She is the other of the two survivors of the “Rose Revolution” triumvirate and to be taken seriously. (I am amused to see that The Economist’s view does not convince many readers).
MOLDOVA. After the latest election the ruling Communist Party fell one short of being able to name the new President. Two of their candidates have been rejected: parliament faces dissolution and a new election.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)